After years of investigations and probes into Donald J . Trump for a wide variety of alleged crimes, a Manhattan grand jury voted Thursday to indict him, marking the first time in U.S. history a former president will face criminal charges.
The indictment has yet to be unsealed so the specifics of the charges were not immediately clear, but the Manhattan district attorney has alleged that Trump had broken the law for his role in a hush-money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels at the height of the 2016 presidential election to silence her story claiming they once had an affair.
Despite years of various investigations, Trump had so far avoided prosecution.
The hush-money charges mark an extraordinary turn of events for Trump, who has been under investigation for election interference in Georgia and the storage of classified documents at his Florida mansion, as he seeks to make a political comeback with a run for the White House in 2024.
Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, was paid $130,000 by Trump’s then-personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, after she had approached the National Enquirer offering to sell her kiss-and-tell story about having sex with Trump at a celebrity golf tournament in 2006.
Clifford then signed a non-disclosure agreement and the National Enquirer never published the story — a tabloid journalism practice known as “catch and kill.”
Cohen initially made the payment using money he took from a home equity loan on his house, and funneled it to Clifford through a shell company he created in Delaware. Cohen, who pleaded guilty in 2018 in federal court to campaign finance violations for his role in the payoff, said he was directed to make the payment by Trump who later reimbursed him.
That payment was recorded by Trump’s company as being for legal services.
Federal prosecutors had argued that the payments amounted to illegal, unreported assistance to Trump’s campaign.
Trump was never charged in the federal probe but was listed in court documents as “co-conspirator number one.”
The former president has denied having an affair with Clifford and has characterized her selling the story as extortion.
Cohen had also been involved in orchestrating an earlier “catch-and-kill” payment in 2016 to former Playboy bunny Karen McDougal, who was given $150,000 for her story of having an affair with Trump by the National Enquirer, which then never ran an article.
The editor and publisher of the National Enquirer were given non-prosecution agreements in exchange for their cooperation with the federal investigation.
Trump has been facing an FBI investigation into his keeping boxes of highly classified documents after he left the White House following his defeat by President Joe Biden in 2020. He also has been subject to a grand jury probe into his alleged tampering with the election process in Georgia.
His real estate company, the Trump Organization, has been the subject of a lawsuit by the New York Attorney General’s office for allegedly falsifying business and tax records. The Manhattan district attorney had similarly looked into Trump’s business practices but has so far declined to press charges.